[Web Informant] 10 August 2009:: Netflix should buy the US Postal Service

David Strom david at strom.com
Mon Aug 10 07:17:16 EDT 2009

Web Informant 10 August 2009:: Netflix should buy the US Postal Service

Congress last week began hearings about whether to discontinue
Saturday mail delivery, close local branches and other measures to try
to balance the postal service's budget. On the national news last
night was a story about how a small town in Maine fought to retain its
lone street mailbox. I say desperate times call for much bigger
measures, and my suggestion is to sell the entire USPS outfit to
Netflix, lock, stock, and …  Well, you don't want to say certain words
around postal employees – at least until they become Netflix staffers.
More on that in a moment.

It isn't so far-fetched when you start to think about the
possibilities. After all, Netflix is keeping the USPS afloat with more
mailings of DVDs than McDonalds sells burgers. They have more than 50
distribution centers around the country, all of them in locations that
are more secret than Dick Cheney's bunker. They certainly understand
how to run a distribution network, they have the machinery and the
personnel. Plus, something that would warm the cockles of my
Republican wife's heart, I can't believe that I am saying this but
having a truly private mail carrier might actually bring some economic
sense to our mail system.

How would this look? Here are my suggestions: First all, all mail
would be one size and have to be sent in those familiar red mailers.
That would mean that anything larger would have to use some other
carrier, such as Fedex or UPS. International mail? Same thing.
Magazines? Well, this is hard for an old magazine editor like myself,
but they will have to change to the Netflix form factor if they still
want to be mailed. Junk mail? Same deal. Standardization is key. No
more post cards. If it doesn't fit in a mailer, you can't mail it.

Next, we eliminate potage stamps. Since we all will be using the
standard mailers, we have standard postage. You buy the mailer and pay
for the postage right then and there. Forget about metering based on
weight: whatever you can cram into one of those envelopes is what you
get to send. This obviates the need to run local post offices: if you
need to mail something bigger, you can go on down to Kinkos or the
local UPS store. They give better customer service there anyway. No
more postage meters, but Pitney Bowes has been on the decline for
years anyway.

And while we are at, we should eliminate business delivery of postal
mail. Don't need it. You want to send something, use one of the other
private carriers and get it there overnight. I recall a funny story a
few years ago, when I was doing some work for a publishing firm and
mailed in my signed contract. My editor kept saying that he never
received the contract, because he never thought to ask where his
actual postal mailbox was – there was little point because he never
got anything via USPS that he cared about. The only thing that I get
these days in my mailbox are checks, and we might as well move towards
electronic payments anyway. Some of my clients now do direct deposit
to my bank account, and I wish more did.

Netflix is a good choice to run the USPS for one other reason: it has
an amazing employee base. You couldn't pick something that was more
the polar opposite of the feather-bedded, anti-customer oriented,
highly unmotivated, hyper regulated postal system if you tried. How
so? There is no vacation or hourly time card tracking policy at
Netflix. There is also no specified uniforms or other dress code
policy there but no one has come to work naked lately. Their entire
T&E policy is "Act in Netflix's Best Interests" and not much more than
that. I think that says a lot about how much a company can trust its
employees, unlike many firms that make you take odd flights to save a
few dollars that consume hours of your time, or jigger your expense
report so you can get almost reimbursed for your actual out-of-pocket
expenses. The lesson is that you don't need detailed policies for
everything. (You can see the details of this for yourself if you are
interested here:

I know having Netflix run the postal system is probably a fantasy. But
it is fun to dream, and have hopes, right?

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